A secret in the night

Newspaper copy editors — and other people who leave work after midnight — get to see a world most people sleep through. The streets are different deep in the night. Quiet and empty, many nights it’s like you are almost alone in the world. It’s especially apparent in a big city like Boston, where the daytime traffic is usually wall to wall, every car occupied by an angry person doing their best to get past the guy in front of them or smash trying.

It’s nice, at night, when there is more than enough room for the few cars on the road, to just sail home on the asphalt current. Your mind can wander, just a little, as your muscle memory carries you from the office to your front door.

You see things that most people don’t. The crews doing maintenance on the roads we all rely on. The teenagers out walking, breaking curfew alone or clutching hands with a boyfriend or girlfriend  or traveling in clusters, heads huddled close together as they puzzle out the world. The homeless guy wobbling along in an ancient wheelchair at 1 a.m. A coyote slipping into a marsh.

The very best secret night thing I saw happened only once, when I was living in Louisville. There was a terrible wind storm one September, and it knocked out power to half the city — half the state, too. And the first night, when the power company was reeling and no one had gone out to buy generators, there was no artificial light on my drive home. But there was an almost full moon. I drove home on streets and past houses bathed in this pale ghostly light. And I thought,  this is what it was like, every night, for millions of years. It was beautiful. And it’s something I will probably never see in a city again.

There’s magic in the night. You should see it. Stay up late. Past midnight, at least. Get the keys. Drive. And if you see a beat-up blue Chevy pass by, flash you high beams for me.

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